Monday, December 22, 2008

On Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning seems to be a much misunderstood term. This is my take on it: Collaborative learning is not about achieving mastery in a certain subject; it’s about learning to collaborate. The topic or project for learning is only the context within which collaboration takes place.

If learning is only about processing information related to a specific subject, retaining this information and being able to apply the principles of the subject in multiple contexts, then probably collaborative learning is a distraction. Because what you get in collaboration are multiple foci, active and passive players, relevant as well as non-relevant conversations, dominance and reaction, and the many things that group dynamics bring to the fore. Therefore, in a sense, even collaborative learning helps one process certain type of information, except that this information may not strictly be about the subject in question but about how each person in the group was approaching this subject in the presence of a group.

In short, the focus of collaborative learning is on collaboration rather than on “learning” in the brain science sense of the term. And because collaboration is a critical life skill, students will need repeated and spaced practice, context (which is provided by the learning topics and projects), practical application (instead of learning about collaboration in textbooks, collaborate in real situations), and a greater understanding of peer groups.

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